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JAG Input Limited on Tribunals

As the U.S. government works to draft new rules for trials of terrorist suspects, the Bush administration is limiting the input of the lawyers who are among the best qualified to offer advice -- the members of the Judge Advocate General corps. Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage, in his Sunday article, Military Lawyers See Limits on Trial Input, writes:

"Despite assuring Congress that career military lawyers are helping design new trials for accused terrorists, the Bush administration has limited their input on their key request, that any tribunals must give detainees the right to see the evidence against them, officials said."

The new rules became necessary in June, when the Supreme Court struck down the administration's tribunal system in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Now, administration and JAG lawyers disagree over whether prosecutors should be allowed to introduce secret evidence. Savage explains:

"Most military lawyers strongly oppose allowing secret evidence, arguing that such a plan would probably violate the Geneva Conventions and create a precedent for enemies of the United States to use show-trials for captured Americans. But administration lawyers maintain that classified evidence may be crucial to a case, and revealing it would compromise national security."

Even though members of Congress have urged the administration to get input from military lawyers in writing the new rules, the Justice Department is drafting them on its own, with virtually no input from the JAGs. This has angered a group of retired military lawyers, says Savage. He quotes Maj. Gen. Nolan Sklute, who retired as the Air Force's top lawyer in 1996:

"The [Justice Department] should have learned that a failure to involve the JAG community can lead to problems. If they are talking to the JAGs only about superficial matters ... that indicates that this is about form instead of substance, and nobody has learned any lessons out of this."

The Justice Department press office did not respond to Savage's requests for comment.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on August 28, 2006 at 05:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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